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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time Part One – 50-41

Matt McGrain

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Constructing a top 100 pound-for-pound was a difficult task, but far more tortuous was my attempt last year to construct a top 100 at heavyweight. The workload of research and footage was no heavier, but I had overlooked the fact that the distinction between fighters ranked even twenty places apart would be tiny; in some cases almost meaningless.

Or at least, that was the case where the lower order was concerned. The top fifty was more cohesive. This was encouraging, and probably rescued my determination to construct thorough ATG lists for each of what is now typically known as “the eight original weight classes.” What you are now reading is the third such list, but the first one that is made up of only fifty fighters. Despite this I hope it loses considerably less than the fifty percent in worth one might imagine. Just as was the case with the heavies, right outside the top fifty things become extremely soft. There are around thirty fighters with a claim for spots #48 through #60 with very little to separate them and this makes their ordering rather meaningless. Within the fifty, the light-heavyweights come alive, suddenly vibrant and distinct. Ahead there are surprises but they are surprises formed by opinion based upon the facts that made up the careers these great fighters enjoyed and endured.

First among those surprises: no Bob Fitzsimmons, and no Jack O’Brien. In appraising light-heavyweights I haven’t gone any further back than 1903 and the point in history that is often seen as beginning of the division with Jack Root’s defeat of Charles McCoy. There were other dates that would have served almost as well, but this is the one I have selected.

Both Fitzsimmons and O’Brien held the title after this point, but both also did the bulk of their work before this point. If this seems a little unfair, consider that both were credited on the pound-for-pound list and on the heavyweight list for these earlier fights. Anything fought above middleweight in the earliest days of gloved boxing was considered a heavyweight fight, and this is how they were appraised by me.

Further to that, no fighter is credited more than once for any contest. For this reason, fights fought by men usually held to be light-heavyweights that were fought above the light-heavyweight limit will be considered to have engaged in a heavyweight contest and will not be credited here. As a rough guide, fighters matched at below 164lbs are generally held to have fought a middleweight contest and fighters matched at 180lbs and above are fighting at heavyweight. Also the weight class in question is always defined by the heavier fighter. If a 173lb man is fighting a 203lb man, he is engaging in a heavyweight contest. This list is interested almost exclusively in fights that took place within the light-heavyweight class.

As to what is considered for placings: opposition bested is the most pressing consideration. “Who did he beat?” is always the first question I ask, quickly followed by “how?” Ability on film, where it can be seen, plays a part, as do prime losses, dominance, and certain other intangibles that can make the difference between a lower spot and a higher one as they throw indistinct shapes from history into focus.

That’s the dull stuff out of the way – now let me introduce you the fifty greatest light-heavyweights of all time.

This, is how I have it:

#50 – Michael Moorer (52-4-1)

Michael Moorer rustled up just 22-0 at light-heayweight and he squeezed the usual quota of sharpening stones into his formative years. Heavyweight was where he made his reputation and his money, 175lbs was doubtless an aperitif and this is reflected in his ranking. In a sense, Moorer is the troubled soul of what has been a difficult project. From Freddie Mills (who falls outside the fifty) to Archie Moore (who, you will be unsurprised to hear, we won’t visit with until part five), a majority of these men spent the majority of their boxing lives rubbernecking the heavyweight division. As Moorer’s own career demonstrated, even the perpetual growth of the heavyweight division between Larry Holmes and Wladimir Klitschko hasn’t discouraged 175lb fighters adding thirty-fifty pounds and hurling themselves against the heavyweights.

My strict consideration of what a fighter achieves in the light-heavyweight division might, therefore, result in some interesting rankings, but Moorer’s place at #50 demonstrates that a part-time light-heavyweight can still receive his due. There are perhaps twenty other men that could have scooped this spot but what edged Moorer in through the closing door was not what he did but the way that he did it. Ramzi Hassan was his first visitation upon a ranked fighter and it was a brutal one. Moorer clubbed him out in five to claim a strap. Victor Claudio followed forty days later in two. Frank Swindell was coming off a first round stoppage of the once great Matthew Saad Muhammad when he took on Moorer forty days after that. Before the fight, Moorer spoke about being extended the full twelve by “tough guy” Swindell; the tough guy managed six rounds. He didn’t win any of them. By the time of his final light-heavyweight contest in December of 1990 he was boxing with the type of destructive surety that spoke of a possible reign of greatness.

It was not to be. A paucity of top class opposition in tandem with the eternal thirst of the light-heavyweight to become just a plain old heavyweight means he can rank no higher, but a 100% KO record and 22-0 squeezed into just 34 months means he cannot be ignored.

A final note – Moorer also ranked in my heavyweight top fifty…at #49. The temptation to rank him at #49 here was almost overwhelming.

#49 – Joe Knight (103-19-11)

But that slot is inhabited by the unheralded Joe Knight who will stand firm as the most underrated fighter on this list almost regardless of who else we come across on our travels; frankly only the hardcore among even a readership as well informed as that of the The Sweet Science will even have heard of him.

There are reasons for this. Despite being the beneficiary of alphabet-belt shenanigans that would make a 1980s heavyweight blush, Knight never lifted the legitimate, lineal light-heavyweight title, although he did get his shot, in February of 1934. The incumbent champion was the eccentric and brilliant Max Rosenbloom, as perplexing a riddle as can be seen in the opposite corner for a light-heavyweight title fight. But Knight had already solved Rosenbloom two years earlier, defeating him over ten rounds in 1932 and he was neither intimidated nor bamboozled. Rather he marched calmly in and fed the champion a steady diet of hooks to the body, giving him a sizeable lead going into the eleventh according to the great Tommy Loughran, who was in attendance. Rosenbloom, who had named Knight “the second best light-heavyweight in the country”, was a king, however, and an experienced one. He finished the stronger, dominating the final two frames to salvage a draw and his title.

This in turn illuminates the second reason for his lack of historical impact: a certain lack of aggression even with a hurt opponent on the hook in an important fight. He let the superb Tony Shucco clamber off the deck to rescue a draw in 1935 and his failure to put away a hurt opponent cost him a loss in a rematch the following year; a similarly wounded Patsy Perroni was able to draw level on the cards in 1936. But for all that, Knight’s decade was a healthy and impressive romp through a tough crew of fighters, losing a series with Bob Goodwin, winning one with Rosenbloom, outworking numerous other solid professionals to rank among the ten best in the world.

It’s true that he lost nineteen, but given that he only won five of his last ten and twelve of his first twenty, those one-hundred wins built for the most part during a superb prime run earns him the #49 spot I wanted to give to Moorer. It is fitting that a boxer who remained almost exclusively a light-heavyweight for his entire career should out-rank one who departed for heavyweight within three years.

#48 – Anton Christoforidis (54-15-8)

Anton Christoforidis runs Joe Knight close for the title of the most underrated fighter on this list. In 1943 he suffered back to back defeats against Jimmy Bivins, a fight he always held he won, and Lloyd Marshall, who he admitted had bested him. He then joined the US Navy, having taken up citizenship of the United States after leaving Turkey, his birthplace, Greece, his first adopted home and France, where he lived his salad days as a professional fighter, behind. When he returned to fighting, it was as a middleweight.

Similarly, he turned professional at middleweight, sparing him the losses then associated with an apprenticeship as well as those associated with a fistic dotage, leaving just his prime for the light-heavyweight division. And he did some superb work there.

He arrived on American soil in 1940, a move that coincided with his first real interest in the light-heavyweight division, announcing himself in that company in earnest with a double left-hook knockout of the prospect Jimmy Reeves. After dropping down to middleweight to go 1-1 with future nemesis Jimmy Bivins, a fight was arranged for the NBA’s light-heavyweight strap against the tough Melio Bettina, who very nearly made this list himself. Speed and stamina were the keynote attributes in a workmanlike and savvy performance that saw Christoforidis pound out a clean, come-from behind decision over the narrow favourite. His reign did not last long, in fact he lost his strap in his very first defence against Gus Lesnevich, but he continued to campaign in the division and cobbled together a fine resume of wins against some of the era’s better fighters, including close victories over Nate Brown and Johnny Colan.

It isn’t a stirring resume, but given light-heavyweight’s surprising lack of depth outside the top forty it’s enough to get him into the bottom ten of the top fifty.

#47 – Henry Maske (31-1)

There was a perception, I think, among the American fight fraternity in the 1990s that fighters who remained in Europe rather than set sail for the fight capital of the world were to be viewed with suspicion. Maske, though, won his critics on the other side of the Atlantic over despite having fought in USA just once, as a 7-0 prospect against a cruiserweight journeyman in a fight staged at a middling Hollywood hotel.

Returning home to his beloved Germany, never to leave Europe again for professional reasons, Maske earned respect with a thirty fight winning streak that eventually saw him named the best light-heavyweight on the planet by Ring magazine.

He likely first caught all but the sharpest of American eyes in March of 1993 by not just defeating but dominating the widely admired Ohioan, Charles Williams. It was a lesson in substance over style and in the deceptive appearance of Maske, who misled in all kinds of ways. There to be hit by eye, he actually had a superb judge of range, and the seemingly clear path to his jaw, a straight shot from wrist to chin, was actually littered with all kinds of sneaky, digging punches. Williams obliged Maske completely in driving himself on to these punches with an overly aggressive approach that the German ate up.

Lacking genuine fluidity on offence, Maske was an expert punch-picker even at 19-0 and was a prototype for Joe Calzaghe in the sense that he sacrificed in order to maintain punching opportunities. Where Calzaghe sacrificed balance, Maske sacrificed rhythm and certain gains his traditional technique may have brought him. It made Maske shifty, one big feint.

He deceived Iran Barkley when that old warhorse mad the trip, winning almost every round and jabbing the old man’s left eye shut with that southpaw jab, feeding him a steady diet of uppercuts when the American tried to rush, head down. Maske punished him sorely from that narrow-legged wide-armed stance in the ninth and Barkley refused to answer the bell for the tenth.

Perhaps a little lucky in taking an exquisitely close decision from Graciano Rocchigiani in May 1995, Maske provided his opponent with an immediate rematch and beat him clean, confirming his status as the best light-heavy on the planet. There are fighters who haven’t made this list who have might be favoured to beat Maske, guys like Eddie Cotton, guys like James Scott, but consistency, paper record and a delightful tendency to deceive opponent and spectator alike sees Maske sneak in ahead of them.

#46 – Willie Pastrano (62-13-8)

Willie Pastrano lifted the world’s light-heavyweight championship versus the brilliant Harold Johnson in the closest thing to a flat out robbery that the modern lineal kingship has ever seen. I scored no fewer than ten rounds for Harold Johnson and if this is extreme, it is still the case that most ringsiders (9-5 in a poll of sports reporters) saw the fight clearly for Johnson. It is hard to credit Pastrano for the win.

But he did fight a clever, foraging battle that night, and he did upset Johnson’s rhythm to a greater extent than geniuses such as Ezzard Charles so if he can’t be credited for the win he can perhaps be credited for a good effort. More, for all that he was handed the title, he did a fine job of defending it, stopping both Gregorio Peralta and Terry Downes.

Pastrano never inspired confidence in the public, his style too skittish to make believers of the fight-fans and Peralta started their title fight as a favourite, based upon his victory over Pastrano in a non-title fight; Pastrano blasted his eye wide open with a right hand while ahead on the cards, stopping him in five. Downes was also cut early but the Londoner proved more stubborn and was likely ahead at the beginning of the eleventh. Pastrano had travelled to Manchester for his second defence and found himself tucked up in a small ring against an aggressive hometown boy with the title on his mind – but he didn’t panic. Instead he boxed, moved when he could and when the time came to fight, he fought. The beginning of the eleventh was such a time, and supposedly inspired by a particularly blue tirade from an irate Angelo Dundee, Pastrano got up on his toes and boomed home two huge right hands; Downes never recovered and Pastrano proceeded to batter him about the ring until the referee was forced to intervene.

He lost his title in his very next defence, to Jose Torres, and promptly retired. Pre-title his career had been a mix of superb work against excellent heavyweight competition (including a 200lb Archie Moore and a 184lb Joey Maxim) and passable work against limited light-heavyweight competition, the probable highlights being his first contest with Chuck Spieser and his decision over Jerry Luedee. This is not top fifty form, but his good performances in title fights plus his gift decision over Harold Johnson gets this overachiever through the door head of light-heavyweight underachievers like James Toney and Bob Olin.

#45 – Mauro Mina (52-3-3)

When he was just 6-0 Peruvian Mauro Mina was defeated by future Brazilian national light-heavyweight champion Luis Ignacio. A year later, at 10-1-1, he lost to South-American light-heavyweight champion Dogomar Martinez over fifteen rounds. And that’s it. That’s all. Mina, who would never fight for the light-heavyweight championship, was never again defeated at the weight. His prime was an undefeated streak six years long interrupted only by a setback up at heavyweight.

Like all the great Central and South Americans (especially in this era), Mina’s first task was to place the massed banditry of his domestic scene under control. This was no small matter. Names like Huberto Loayza and Sixto Rodriguez may not call to mind famous faces, but they were serious men unaccustomed to letting local prospects escape their grasp without a fight. Mina beat out all comers, often in front of crowds of thousands, and eventually escaped to the United States where the veteran Henry Hank gave him a most unwelcome welcome. Already 11-0 versus American fighters paid to visit Peru, Mina included a victory over #1 contender Eddie Cotton on his ledger, but Hank pushed him hard in the early going. When the Peruvian got down off his toes however, he dominated, using his more traditional style to out-hit Hank with high pressure and some superb short-arm punching. A split decision win was his reward, to be followed by a shot at the light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson.

Alas, it was not to be. Whether or not Mina would have tested Johnson with his crafty defence and his depth of style will never be known as an eye injury kept him from the championship ring. Hank, who met both men, certainly thought Mina’s chances were healthy claiming he was too strong for “anyone in the division.” The Peruvian continued to impress, climbing off the canvas to outpoint a green Bob Foster, defeating Cotton again and out-pointing the ranked Piero Del Papa in his very last fight, but when he retired there was a sense that his potential went unfulfilled.

#44 – Billy Miske (45-3-3; Newspaper Decisions 29-10-13)

Billy Miske is best known as the first victim of the title run of the heavyweight legend Jack Dempsey, but Miske boxed an entire career before he limped to the ring to face Jack and much of it was fought at the 175lb limit.

It is also true that Miske is known for making an attempt on the prime Dempsey’s title despite suffering the debilitating symptoms of Bright’s Disease, leading many to write him off as a valid opponent; less well known is that Miske had been battling these symptoms for years and suffered badly with them before many of his key battles at the weight. Before his summer 1919 confrontation with Tommy Gibbons he had, according to Clay Moyle, author of Billy Miske, nine boils lanced. In the week before the fight he was so weak with fever he could hardly rise form his bed. According to Miske himself, “my back ached, my legs were numb…I gritted my teeth and said “I’m going to go these ten rounds”…I don’t know how I did it.”

But he did do it, and in the opinion of the referee and several newspapermen in attendance he toughed it out to a draw, gameness and aggression his chief weapons against the brilliant Gibbons. The two fought a series across the span of seven years and it was one that was dominated by Gibbons, but in their only meeting at 175lbs, Miske held his own despite his desperate health. It is very possible that were he well, Miske might have found a shade in that fight.

The other key series in his career was fought against the great Jack Dillon, “The St.Paul Thunderbolt” and for all that Dillon had started to slip by the time Miske had started to dominate, when they first met in January of 1916 Dillon was at the tail end of his absolutely extraordinary prime. Heavily favoured, Dillon was shocked by Miske who, as he would throughout his career, refused to bow to any measure of punishment, remaining in the pocket with the much more experienced man and appearing to out-fight him there. Dillon claimed illness, and there may be something to this as he showed better in the rematch, taking his revenge, but it is a fact that by the end of their four fight series Miske was winning at a canter. He is generally credited with winning their rivalry three fights to one. He had developed a healthy habit of making Dillon miss with bodywork before hitting out with serious punches in return.

He could never get over on the deadly Kid Norfolk, or on the immortal Harry Greb but there is certainly no shame in that. Supporting wins over champion Battling Levinsky and the always willing Gunboat Smith see him enjoy an elevated ranking here – but certainly not one that he does not deserve.

#43 – Jeff Clarke (92-31-15; Newspaper Decisions 37-9-6)

Jeff Clarke was known as the Jopplin Ghost, The Fighting Ghost, a spectre of a boxer, gone from his flailing opponent in a step, offering the parting gift of an uppercut. So brilliant was Clarke that he was able, despite what was a definitive light-heavyweight’s frame, to straddle two divisions, making inroads into a hot heavyweight division. Clarke once defeated the brilliant heavyweight contender Joe Jeanette and dropped and out-boxed the fabled Sam Langford; yet his footprint on history is, perhaps fittingly, ghost-like.

Never a legitimate champion, he remorselessly pursued alphabet straps at the heavier weight, fighting for the Mexican heavyweight title, the Panamanian heavyweight title, the “coloured” heavyweight title. For an African-American fighter turning professional in the USA in 1908, there was really no other way to achieve financial security. His Herculean pursuit of heavyweight riches ironically hampers his ranking here. Had he fought in a later era he likely would have spent most of his career at the weight and found himself in the upper reaches of this list.

A counter-punching specialist, he was extremely hard to hit and more than capable of keeping from the era’s most dangerous punchers for distance fights, but when called to arms he was capable of duking it out with the best of them, as he proved against Kid Norfolk in May of 1915 in Panama City, stepping close to give one of the most brutal infighters of the era a solid lesson in the art.

Kid Norfolk would eventually catch up to him and as the older man Clarke was firmly dominated by Norfolk in the end. The Ghost spent almost ten years in a funk of losses and beatings as his career wound down, ruining his paper record but failing to obscure an excellence that continues to shine, barely, through the past century.

#42 – Jose Torres (41-3-1)

When people talk about “old-school” fighters they are talking about guys like Puerto Rican Jose Torres.

Check out his 1966 fight of the year with the timeless Eddie Cotton for a fine example. It’s not that Torres does anything we don’t see today but rather the way that he does it. There is no flashy shoulder-role or sizzling footwork, he just slips jabs with good reaction time, arbitrary head movement, technically sure positioning and well-drilled balance. The over-riding definition of old-school is economy – it is born of necessity as fighters trained and learned to box fifteen rounds, a whole 25% more than their modern counterparts. His moves at every range are dotted by a certain care that often cannot be seen in the modern ring. Nothing is wasted. His opponent, Cotton, is complicit in this and together they turn in one of the great light-heavyweight fights.

Torres delivered a similar performance against Willie Pastrano, from whom he took the title. Pastrano, probably, is past his best but this is Jose’s best effort on film, a fight in which he demonstrates all that is good about him. Moving forwards steadily in that now famous peekaboo style, gloves high, dipping and cutting the ring off on the fleet-footed Pastrano before the champion even knew where he was headed, a vicious body-attack the tip of his spear. It was a one-sided beating that resulted in the first stoppage of Pastrano’s career for any reason other than cuts. The reason on this occasion was an accumulation of punches that forced the referee’s hand between the ninth and tenth round.

In addition to his wonderful defeat of Cotton, Torres managed defences against former top contender Chic Calderwood, who he blasted out in two with a booming right to the ear, and the always game Wayne Thornton who he outclassed over fifteen.

Against this must be tempered Jose’s loss of the title to former middleweight Dick Tiger, a fighter totally incapable of filling out into a light-heavyweight, not once but twice. It is also true that he lifted the title against a fighter that probably should never have been in possession of it, Pastrano gifted a decision over Harold Johnson. Finally, Torres was not a career light-heavy, having fought many years at middleweight in the fruitless pursuit of a title shot.

Still, it is clear he belongs, even if the above is reason enough for me to see him a little lower than many Puerto Rican’s will care to see him.

#41 – Sergey Kovalev (27-0-1)

It’s a strange thing with active fighters. I am writing just hours after Sergey Kovalev’s brutalisation of Jean Pascal in the latter’s hometown of Quebec, March the fifteenth, 2015. The fight was not close, but the fight was most entertaining and in the course of the fight Kovalev was checked for both chin and engine. He was the equal to both of these examinations, showed a wonderful patience in stalking his wounded opponent for the knockout, and devastated Pascal in eight surgical and brutal rounds. Had Kovalev lost that fight rather than inflicted upon Pascal his first ever stoppage defeat, he would now be ranked nowhere, and the great middleweight and sometime light-heavyweight Tiger Flowers would have crept into the #50 spot. As it is, Flowers languishes outside, and Kovalev assaults the dizzy, even absurd heights of #41, above one or two men whose names ring out as legendary.

Is it reasonable? Certainly it can be defended, although in a less traditional manner than the logic that supports much of this list. Firstly, Kovalev has now beaten more men ranked in the top five at light-heavyweight at the time that he met them than Anton Christoforidis (#46) and Mauro Mina (#45). He has defeated old-man Hopkins at a time when the great man was ranked the #1 light-heavyweight contender to the 175lb title. He is undefeated at the weight and has knocked out every ranked opponent he has ever faced aside from Hopkins.

I admit, still, there is a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Kovalev might be better suited to a spot a little further down, behind Clarke and Torres perhaps. What leads him to the #41 spot is this: if his ranking looks high now it will look low in a year’s time – that is because Kovalev is, by my reckoning, the best light-heavyweight since the heyday of one Roy Jones Junior. Experience has taught me it is better to be conservative in ranking active fighters, but this fighter seems a legitimate leviathan; so I have let my gut guide me.

Time, as always, will tell.

Click here for part Two

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Four

Click here for part Five

Follow Matt McGrain on Twitter: @McGrainM

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Holmes-Spinks I: The Grassy Knoll for Boxing’s Conspiracy Theorists

Bernard Fernandez

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Holmes-Spinks-I-The-Grassy-Knoll-for-Boxing's-Conspiracy-Theorists

The most enduring of American conspiracy theories involves a gunman who may or may not have existed and may or may not have been on a grassy knoll in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the subject of numerous speculative books and movies, all of which involve some individual’s ironclad take on what happened, why it happened and who was involved in making it happen, will always be grist for the mill for those still dissecting that national tragedy. More than a few of those arguments dispute the Warren Commission’s official conclusion that presumed killer Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own and not in concert with unidentified, shadowy figures.

On a more recent and lesser scale, a raft of conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the alleged Aug. 10 jailhouse suicide of multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whose list of celebrity acquaintances includes two presidents of the United States and even a member of the British royal family. As was the case when nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald before he could go on trial, conspiracy theorists on all sides have conjectured whether Epstein’s suspicious death was actually a hit and, if so, ordered by whom?

Boxing, with its blemished past dotted by nefarious power brokers and decisions that sometimes defy logic, also has provided conspiracy junkies with ample material to analyze and debate. Olympic boxing, often characterized as a cesspool of corruption, immediately comes to mind. So does the Sept. 10, 1993, majority draw in which WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker, whom almost everyone without an official scorecard saw as the clear victor, was obliged to settle for a dissatisfying standoff with crowd favorite and Mexican national hero Julio Cesar Chavez in a bout that drew a live crowd of 60,000 or so in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Although Whitaker retained his title on the draw, he and his outraged supporters were convinced the outcome was predicated more on the WBC, headquartered in Mexico City, exerting behind-the-scenes influence to ensure that Chavez came away with his undefeated record still intact. Irrefutable truth is often difficult to pin down in such matters, but the 55-year-old “Sweet Pea,” who died after being struck by a car on July 14, went to his grave believing he had been cheated out of a deserved triumph that would have further embellished his Hall of Fame legacy.

Given its historical implications, what is arguably the grassy knoll of boxing remains the Sept. 21, 1985, pairing of long-reigning heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and undisputed light heavyweight titlist Michael Spinks, who was attempting to become the first (or maybe not) 175-pound champ to move up in weight and capture his sport’s most prestigious and lucrative prize.

Spinks – who came away with a razor-thin and controversial 15-round unanimous decision — was bidding to do something no other light heavyweight had ever done, although there are those who cite Tommy Burns, who outpointed heavyweight champ Marvin Hart over 20 rounds on Feb. 23, 2006, as the first 175-pound titlist to accomplish the feat. In any case, since Burns, 13 light heavyweight champs had tried and failed in their bids to become king of the heavyweights, a list that included such ring legends as Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster.

Given the fact that the 35-year-old Holmes was making his 20th title defense and was widely considered as one of the best heavyweight champions of all time, he was installed as a prohibitive favorite over Spinks, who was not only bucking tradition but the perceived limits of his own body. Even respected Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, noting that Spinks had weighed in at 199¾ pounds – heavier than such legendary heavyweight champions as and Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano ever did for title bouts – went a bit overboard in writing that the challenger looked “like a blowfish” and that his weight gain was accelerated by a 4,500-calorie-a-day diet that might be “all right for a guy getting ready to play Henry the Eighth.”

But Spinks’ bulking-up process was not the result of having scarfed down a bunch of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and doughnuts, but rather the calculated machinations of New Orleans-based fitness coach and nutritionist Mackie Shilstone, whose then-unorthodox methods would soon gain wider acceptance but then were seen by the boxing establishment as, well, somewhat bizarre.

“We have a scientific, unique program that is secret – a program that was developed specifically for Michael, using techniques that would be revolutionary for boxing,” Shilstone said to the bemusement of hidebound traditionalists.

Spinks, whose walking-around weight between light heavyweight matches was usually 10 pounds or so above the division limit, said he was already familiar working with Shilstone – to shed unwanted pounds.

“Mackie had already helped me lose weight to get down to light heavyweight,” Spinks said when contacted for this story. “He told me that if I wanted to fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship, he could help me put the weight on the right way. And that’s what he did. He also said he wouldn’t take anything from what I already had, in terms of what I did well as a light heavyweight, that I still would be able to do all that as a heavyweight. He was right, too. I was as fast as a heavyweight as I was as a light heavyweight.”

Unlike Conn, Moore, Foster and other light heavyweight champs who made no secret of their ambition to storm and conquer the heavyweight division, Michael admits to initially lacking the burning desire to replicate the feat of his older brother and fellow 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, who dethroned WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali via 15-round split decision in a monumental upset on Feb. 15, 1978. Leon had always been naturally larger than Michael, never weighing less than 194 pounds for any of his first 23 outings as a pro. The mere notion of moving up to heavyweight seemed unlikely and more than a bit risky to Michael, who figured he would continue to do what he’d already been doing, which was to dominate all comers at light heavy.

It was Butch Lewis, who promoted both Spinks brothers, who determined that Michael going to heavyweight was not only doable, but highly advisable financially.

“Butch told me I could fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship,” the younger Spinks recalled. “I was, like, `What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and you can beat him.’ I said, `You really think so?’ And he said, `Absolutely.’

“Butch (who was 65 when he died of a heart attack on July 23, 2011) had faith in me, so I took that and ran with it.”

Maybe what bottom-line Butch had was absolute faith in the economic realities of boxing, which always hold that heavyweight champions are vastly better-compensated than their light heavyweight counterparts. Consider these numbers: Michael Spinks’ purse for his final light heavyweight defense, an eighth-round stoppage of Jim MacDonald on June 6, 1985, was a relatively paltry $100,000, a pittance compared to the $1.1 million contract he signed to challenge Holmes.

Say what you will about the flamboyant Lewis, who was noted for wearing a tuxedo and bow tie but no shirt on fight night, but his steering of Michael Spinks’ career was a case study on how to milk the system for every available dollar. It was Lewis who made the bold call, after Spinks had followed up his stunner over Holmes by outpointing the “Easton Assassin” on another close and controversial call, a 15-round split decision in the rematch seven months later, to hold Spinks out of the heavyweight unification tournament being put together by HBO Sports president Seth Abraham and promoter Don King. In doing so Spinks passed on a potential $5 million payday against eventual tourney winner Mike Tyson, but he was paid about the same amount to defeat the formidable Gerry Cooney, putting into motion a series of events that led to his June 27, 1988, megafight with Tyson in Atlantic City. OK, so Spinks didn’t make it through the first round, but he received a career-high $13.2 million for what proved to be his final fight and only professional loss, a pretty nice parting gift when you get right down to it.

Holmes had his own potential date with destiny in that first clash with Michael Spinks. Were he to win, it would be his 49th consecutive victory without a loss, matching the record set by Marciano – ironically, against Archie Moore and, even more ironically, 30 years to the day after The Rock knocked out the Ol’ Mongoose in the ninth round in what turned out to be his final fight.

In the lead-up to the fight at The Riviera in Las Vegas, for which members of the Marciano family were invited guests, Holmes seemed to chafe at constantly being compared to a beloved fighter who had died in a crash of a small private plane on Aug. 31, 1969. “I’m not fighting Marciano,” Holmes complained. “He’s dead. I never knew him. I’m fighting for Larry Holmes, for me, for what I can do for my family.”

To Holmes, who was no stranger to the seven-figure club and who was down for a $3 million purse, there was a racial component to the constant comparisons to Marciano, who was white, much in the same manner that black baseball great Hank Aaron was the target of unfair and sometimes cruel criticism as he neared the sacrosanct record of 714 career home runs set by Babe Ruth. When Aaron passed Ruth by homering for the 715th time on April 8, 1974, the feat was celebrated by many Americans and baseball fans in general, but not by everyone.

Members of the Marciano family, who ostensibly had been summoned to congratulate Holmes in the event of his making it to 49-0, celebrated when the close decision for Spinks – by margins of 143-142 (twice) and 145-142 – was announced. That did not set well with Holmes, who felt such a display was disrespectful to him and, additionally, was the wrong call historically as long-reigning champions such as himself usually got the benefit of the doubt in close fights.

“I was robbed,” Holmes, in announcing one of his several retirements from boxing that didn’t stick, said at the postfight press conference, suggesting that alleged conspirators in influential places who finally had brought him down can “kiss me where the sun never shines,” which meant “my big black behind.”

Nor was Holmes any more disposed to be gracious to Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother and the foremost keeper of the “Brockton Blockbuster’s” eternal flame. “You are freeloading off your dead brother,” Holmes told Peter, tossing in the zinger that “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”

Months later, after the heat of the moment had long since cooled down, Holmes, in most instances a respectful and thoroughly decent man, offered a public apology to anyone he might have offended with his earlier intemperate remarks.

“I’m sorry for what I said, for the way things came out,” Holmes told a Boston reporter. “I don’t want to take anything away from Peter or the Marciano family. I haven’t slept for two months thinking about this.

“I’ve reached out to Peter Marciano. I’d like to get together with him, either in his town or mine (Easton, Pa.). There must be something that can be done to make this right.

“I have no hard feelings against Rocky Marciano. He was one of the greatest fighters of all time. His 49-0 record speaks for itself. If I hurt Marciano’s family, I regret it.”

What Holmes did not back away from, not then and not now, is his belief that he deserved to win both of his fights with Michael Spinks, with the first loss a thinly veiled and successful attempt to keep him from sidling up alongside the sainted Marciano.

“There was no doubt about it,” he said of a decision he still regards as a cold slap in the face. “I knew what they were going to do to me. I knew if I didn’t knock him out, I wasn’t going to get the decision.” Nor is he alone in that contention, just as there are Spinks partisans who are just as insistent that the judges got it right.

Asked if he thought then, or does now, that he did not receive all the credit he was due from Holmes and his other persistent proponents of the conspiracy theory that refuses to die, Spinks said it shouldn’t matter at this point. The record book indicates he won, so that should be that.

“It was a close fight, but I did think I won,” he reiterated. “There’s no animosity between me and Larry. We get along. He’s not really sore about it anymore. At one of his golf tournaments that I attended, he took the microphone and said something about how he’d lost to me, but that wasn’t all bad because he made so much money for losing.”

What Holmes wants to make clear more than anything is that he wants to forever bury any hint that race is or should still be a part of the discussion. He said there was too much of that in the past, and still too much now. He pointed out that Gerry Cooney, the white guy against whom his high-visibility fight was neatly divided into opposing racial camps, as well as Spinks have been regular participants in his charity golf tournament.

“Half of my family is white,” Holmes pointed out. “I’m not a racist. I don’t have anything against white folks or anybody else. My son is getting ready to be married in a couple of weeks to a white girl. My daughter is married to a white guy.

“I didn’t really care about racial s— then, and to this day I don’t care about it. Gerry Cooney is my friend. Now, I didn’t like the decisions in my fights with Michael Spinks, but you can’t dwell on that. You got to move past that.”

Which might be one man’s way of saying that any lingering ghosts on that figurative grassy knoll overlooking a boxing ring where a fight took place 34 years ago should finally be allowed to just fade away.

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The Hauser Report: Fight Notes on Mexican Independence Day Weekend

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing is accustomed to having a major fight in Las Vegas as the centerpiece of Mexican Independence Day Weekend. This year, Canelo Alvarez was penciled in as the star attraction. But Canelo and his presumed challenger, Gennady Golovkin, couldn’t come to terms, and boxing’s PPV-streaming-video king decided that he would enter the ring next against Sergey Kovalev on November 2. That left a holiday void to fill and three separate promotions vying to fill it.

The action began on Friday, September 13, at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater. Three bouts were billed as featured attractions on a Matchroom USA card streamed on DAZN.

First up, as expected, Michael Hunter (17-1, 12 KOs) outslicked Sergey Kuzmin (15-0, 11 KOs). Kuzman had an extensive amateur background in the Russian amateur system but is a one-dimensional fighter. For most of the fight, he plodded forward while Hunter potshotted him at will in what looked like a spirited sparring session en route to a 117-110, 117-110, 117-110 triumph.

Next, Amanda Serrano (36-1-1, 27 KOs), who has won belts in weight classes ranging from 118 to 135 pounds, challenged WBO 126-pound beltholder Heather Hardy (22-0, 4 KOs). It was expected to be an ugly beatdown with Hardy on the receiving end. The only open issue for most fight fans was how long Heather would last.

Hardy only knows one way to fight. Moving forward, which she has been able to do in the past against stationary opponents who had less of a punch that she did. All of her previous fights had been made for her to win. Questionable hometown judging carried her across the finish line on several occasions when it appeared as though she had fallen short.

At the final pre-fight press conference for Hardy-Serrano, Heather proclaimed, “I’m the toughest girl I know.”

But tough alone doesn’t win fights. Against Serrano, Hardy took a pounding in a lopsided first round that two of the judges correctly scored 10-8 in Amanda’s favor. Round two was more of the same. Serrano was the more skilled, faster, stronger fighter and a sharper puncher. Heather hung tough. But she was hanging from a thread.

Over the next eight rounds, Hardy showed courage and heart. For the first time in her career, she was in the ring against an opponent who hadn’t been chosen because it was presumed that Heather would beat her. She survived and legitimately won a few rounds against Serrano in the process.

The final scorecards were 98-91, 98-91, 98-92 in Serrano’s favor. Each woman received an $80,000 purse. Hardy earned every penny of it. And she earned respect for her effort in a way that none of the “W”s on her ring record had brought her.

The main event showcased lightweight Devin Haney (22-0, 14 KOs) against Zaur Abdulaev (11-0, 7 KOs). Haney is 20 years young and a hot prospect. Abdulaev, age 25, is a solid fighter but in a different league than Haney.

Devin entered the ring as a 20-to-1 favorite. At this point in his career, he appears to be the whole package with speed, power, explosiveness, and good ring skills. Physically and mentally, he’s mature beyond his years as a fighter but still has the enthusiasm of youth. Over the course of four rounds, he gave Abdullaev nothing to work with, broke the Russian down, and fractured Zaur’s cheekbone. Abdullaev’s corner called a halt to the proceedings after the fourth stanza.

Haney has The Look that fighters like Shane Mosley and Roy Jones Jr. had when they were young. He and boxing are in their honeymoon years. As for the immediate future; Devin has been calling out Vasyl Lomachenko. But given the different promotional entities and networks involved, the chances of that fight happening anytime soon are nil.

Twenty years ago, fight fans could have looked forward to Haney being meaningfully challenged at each level as he moved forward in an attempt to prove how good he is. In today’s fragmented boxing world, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

On Saturday, the scene shifted to Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, for another DAZN telecast. This one was promoted by Golden Boy and was supposed to showcase 21-year-old lightweight Ryan Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs), who’s being marketed as a heartthrob who can fight, against light-punching Avery Sparrow (10-1, 3 KOs). That match evaporated one day before its scheduled date when Sparrow was arrested and taken into custody on an outstanding arrest warrant issued after he allegedly brandished a handgun in a domestic dispute this past April.

The main event wasn’t much of a contest either with Jaime Munguia (33-0, 26 KOs) defending his WBO 154-pound belt against Patrick Allotey (40-3, 30 KOs) of Ghana.

Munguia had nice wins last year against Sadam Ali and Liam Smith. Then, five months ago, he was undressed by Dennis Hogan (although the judges in Monterrey, Mexico, found a way to give Jaime a dubious home country majority decision). Allotey’s record looked good until one checked the quality of his opponents on BoxRec.com. Munguia was a 30-to-1 favorite.

When the fight began, Allotey seemed most comfortable on his bicycle and decidedly uncomfortable when he was getting hit by the hooks that Munguia pounded repeatedly into his body. Two minutes into round three, one of those hooks put him on the canvas. A combination dropped him for the second time just before the bell. Patrick seemed disinclined to come out of his corner for round four but was nudged back into the conflict. Two minutes later, he took a knee after another hook to the body and his corner stopped the bout.

The third significant fight card of Mexican Independence Day weekend was the biggest of the three. Promoted by Top Rank and streamed on ESPN+, it featured Tyson Fury vs. Otto Wallin at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Like the other two shows, this one disappointed at the gate. The Hulu Theater had been reconfigured on Friday night so the rear sections were curtained off. There were more empty seats than seats with people in them at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday.

When Fury fought Tom Schwarz at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on June 15, Top Rank had announced a crowd of 9,012. But according to final receipts submitted to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, only 5,489 tickets were sold for that event with another 1,187 complimentary tickets being given away. The announced attendance for Fury-Wallin was 8,249. T-Mobile arena seats 20,000 for boxing.

ESPN+’s featured three-fight stream didn’t begin until 11:00 PM eastern time. Jose Zepeda (30-2, 25 KOs, 1 KO by) won a 97-93, 97-93, 97-93 decision over former beltholder Jose Pedraza (26-2, 13 KOs, 1 KO by). Then WBO 122-pound titlist Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24 KOs) cruised to a fourth-round stoppage of Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15 KOs). That set the stage for Fury-Wallin.

There are plenty of “world heavyweight championship” belts to go around these days. Claimants during the past four years have included Manuel Charr, Joseph Parker, Ruslan Chagaev, Lucas Browne, Charles Martin, and Bermane Stiverne. Fury (who entered the ring with a 28-0, 20 KOs record) is currently being marketed as the “lineal” heavyweight champion and can trace his lineal roots all the way back to Wladimir Klitschko (which falls short of going back to John L. Sullivan). The best things said about Wallin (20-0, 13 KOs) during fight week were that he was probably better than Tom Schwarz (Fury’s most recent opponent) and that, as noted by Keith Idec of Boxing Scene, Wallin was “perfectly polite” during the fight-week festivities.

Bob Arum, who shares a promotional interest in Fury with Frank Warren, praised Fury as the second coming of The Greatest and advised the media, “People are seeing things that they haven’t seen since Muhammad Ali. You’re seeing a great fighter who can connect to the people and he’s a real showman.”

Fury (born, raised, and still living in the United Kingdom) got into the spirit of things and proclaimed, “I am going to change my name for the weekend to El Rey Gitano [which translates from Spanish to English as “The Gypsy King”]. And he further declared, “Isn’t it a great thing that a total outsider is showing so much love, passion, and respect for the Mexican people. At the minute, they are being oppressed by the people here [in the United States]. Building a wall, chucking ‘em all out, and treating them terrible. I don’t know what is going on, but it is nice to see a total stranger, heavyweight champion of the world, coming here and respecting people and paying homage to their beliefs and special days. I’ve got the Mexican shorts, the Mexican gloves, the Mexican mask, the Mexican music, the Mexican flag. I have Mexicans as part of my training team. There is a lot of honor and respect in fighting on this date.”

That elicited a response from WBA-IBF-WBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz, who declared on social media, “Tyson Fury’s talking sh**. He’s representing Mexico – he’s not even Mexican, what kind of sh** is that? A British f***in, he ain’t even Mexican, wearing the f***ing Mexican flag, messed up man. Stay in your lane.”

Meanwhile, with no existing World Boxing Council title at stake, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman stepped in and announced that Fury-Wallin would be contested for a special “Mayan belt” that was also offered to the winner of Munguia-Allotey. Maybe someday boxing will have interim Mayan belts and Mayan belts in recess as well.

Fury was a 25-to-1 betting favorite. For two rounds, everything went according to plan. Then, in round three, a looping left by Wallin opened a horrible, deep gash along Tyson’s right eyebrow. The cut gave the fight high drama. There was a real chance that it would worsen to the point where there was no alternative to stopping the bout. Despite the efforts of cutman Jorge Capetillo, blood streamed from the wound for the rest of the fight.

Knowing that he was in danger, Fury abandoned what he likes to think of as finesse boxing and began to brawl, coming forward and trying to impose his 6-foot-9-inch, 254-pound bulk on his opponent. By round eight, Wallin was exhausted. Tyson was teeing off from a distance and, when he came inside, bullying Otto around.

Wallin fought as well as he could. But he was being pounded around the ring and getting beaten down. Then, remarkably, 38 seconds into round twelve, he whacked Fury with a good left hand and, suddenly – if only temporarily – Tyson was holding on.

The final scorecards read 118-110, 117-111, 116-112 in Fury’s favor.

“I was happy that he was cut,” Wallin said afterward. “But I wish I could of capitalized a little more on it.”

And a final thought . . . When there are three heavyweight “world champions” (which is what boxing has now), there is no heavyweight champion at all.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey; Another Year Inside Boxing– will be published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank (note Fury’s jumbo-sized sombrero)

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Mexico’s Jaime Munguia KOs Allotey and Franchon Crews Unifies

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Mexico’s Jaime Munguia walked into the warm and humid outdoor arena like a conquering hero and walked out the same way after knocking out Patrick Allotey to retain the WBO super welterweight title on Saturday.

The large, mostly Mexican, Independence weekend crowd was ecstatic.

Munguia (34-0, 27 KOs) showed the more than 7,000 fans at Dignity Health Sports Park that he learned a few things from his new trainer and that was a bad thing for Ghana’s Allotey (40-4, 30 KOs). The tall Tijuana fighter seemed calm and focused in this possible last defense of his super welterweight title.

“I don’t know yet, I’ll have to meet with my team to decide,” said Munguia about evacuating the weight division to move up to middleweight.

Allotey probably wishes Munguia left yesterday.

For a short while, Allotey used movement and pot shots to catch the aggressive Mexican fighter during the first two rounds. Both landed blows but not enough to quench the thirst of the pro-Mexican crowd there to see a knockout.

Things turned around quickly in the third round as Munguia, who is now trained by former Mexican great Erik Morales, began catching up to Allotey, in particular with bludgeoning body shots. A three punch Munguia combination dropped the Ghanaian for the count. He got up and was met with a blistering five-punch combination, including one that sent him across the ring for another knockdown. Allotey beat the count near the end of the round.

The fight could have ended in the previous round but it was allowed to continue. A left hook to the body of Allotey sent him to the floor after a delayed reaction. The Ghanaian’s corner asked the referee Jack Reiss to halt the fight at 2:18 of round four, giving the knockout win to Munguia.

Cheers erupted from the large Mexican crowd.

“Step by step, I’ve learned a lot from all the fighters that I’ve fought before,” said Munguia who lives in Tijuana. “This is Mexican Independence Day and I feel really good and I’m ready to go further for more.”

Franchon Crews   

Franchon Crews Dezurn (6-1) won by unanimous decision but this time it was a more impressive Maricela Cornejo (13-4, 5 KOs) who showed up in the sudden rematch that was put together in two days. Impressive or not, Crews walked away with both the WBC and WBO super middleweight world titles.

Both women warriors exchanged thunderous blows that bounced off each other to the delight of the crowd, but neither would go down. By the middle rounds, Cornejo slowed visibly but still had enough to stay in the fight competitively. It was a much better performance than their first clash a year ago in Las Vegas that saw Crews win the WBC title by decision.

Once Cornejo slowed, Crews slowed her pace too but had more energy and was able to use her jab and combinations. Toward the last few rounds there was a lot of holding but both connected with solid blows until the end.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 98-92 and a third 97-93 for Crews.

It was a remarkable performance by both fighters who were not originally scheduled to meet. But when the original Mexican opponent Alejandra Jimenez was unable to obtain a visa, Golden Boy Promotions asked Cornejo and she gladly obliged just two days ago.

“I got out here thinking I was going to fight one person, a person who had been bullying me on the internet. Alejandra Jimenez, if you want this one, you can come get it too. I’m not here for a good time, I’m here for a long time. This is the land of the warriors, not the posers, not the models,” said Crews. “I want to be respected just like the men are respected. I’m going to step up to the plate and take the challenges. I don’t go into any match thinking I’m entitled to anything.”

Duno

Romero Duno (21-1, 16 KOs) underwent some minor drama before even stepping into the ring, but it didn’t stop him from winning by knockout against Los Angeles tough guy Ivan Delgado (13-3-2, 6 KOs) in their on and off and on again lightweight fight.

When sizzling prospect Ryan Garcia’s opponent Avery Sparrow was arrested and unable to fight, it was suggested that Duno should be Sparrow’s replacement. That didn’t go well with Garcia’s team and was abruptly shot down. The Duno-Delgado fight then went back on the drawing board, as originally planned, but Delgado came in more than four pounds overweight.

It didn’t matter.

Duno battered Delgado in the first round but the local fighter managed to use his experience to fend off further damage by the heavy-handed Filipino. After that it was a game of cat and mouse. Through most of the fight, Duno landed more blows but Delgado used some slick counters to score and keep the strong puncher from landing the killer blow. Still it wasn’t enough, and at the end of the seventh round the corner decided to end the fight, giving Duno the win by knockout.

“I was just doing my job,” said Duno. “I know Delgado is a tough fighter.”

Regarding Ryan Garcia, “I know Ryan Garcia wants to fight me. He’s a top boxer.”

Other Bouts

Joselito Velasquez (11-0, 9 KOs) knocked out fellow Mexican Francisco Bonilla (6-7-3, 3 KOs) in a battle between North and South Mexican flyweights. Velasquez floored Bonilla in the second round when he beat Bonilla to the punch with a left hook. Finally, in the fourth round during a Bonilla rally, Velasquez connected with a left-right combination the sent the Chihuahua fighter to the floor. Referee Sharon Sand immediately waved the fight over at 2:54 of the fourth round.

A battle between undefeated super middleweights saw the very tall Diego Pacheco (6-0, 5 KOs) win by knockout over Oakland’s Terry Fernandez (3-1, 3 KOs). Pacheco used his size to keep Fernandez at bay then pummeled him with long rang rights and shots to the body. At the end of the second round, Pacheco battered Fernandez with 18 consecutive blows from one corner to the other. In the third round, Pacheco connected with a three-punch combination that snapped back Fernandez’s head violently and though he did not go down, the referee Eddie Hernandez wisely stopped the fight at 41 seconds of the third round.

Rafael Gramajo (11-2-2, 3 KOs) won by knockout over Daniel Olea (13-9-2) at the end of the fourth round when he could not continue in their lightweight contest.

Alejandro Reyes (1-0) won his pro debut by knockout over Mexico’s Jorge Padron (3-5, 3 KOs) with a left hook to the body at 1:55 of the second round of a lightweight match. New referee J Guillermo counted out Sonora’s Padron.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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